House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., Friday introduced legislation in the House to create a new agricultural guestworker plan.
The crux of the plan, called the "Agricultural Guestworker Act," is replacement of the H-2A program with an H-2C program to be administered by the USDA. The program would address seasonal strain on ag employers and ag laborers, a sticking point for many groups at the outset of immigration talks.
Goodlatte said in a statement Friday that other components of the plan include minimizing "red tape" and protecting farmers from frivolous lawsuits by providing an option for condition of employment clauses.
"By putting farmers in the driver's seat rather than Washington bureaucrats, they will be better equipped to compete in the global economy and continue growing our crops. It is vital that American farmers have access to a workable guestworker program now so that they can continue putting food on Americans' tables," Goodlatte noted.
Specifically, the program would allow an initial stay of 36 months for ag guestworkers, followed by up to three months' required leave. After the initial stay, farmworkers would be required to leave the country once every 18 months.
The program also limits the tax credits and welfare programs from which guestworkers can collect. Additionally, it does not allow H-2C workers to bring spouses or minor children with them, unless they also qualify as guestworkers. Also under the H-2C program, employers are not required to provide housing or travel reimbursement for temporary workers.
Though Agriculture Workforce Coalition noted the proposal was an important first step in the House, they said they would remain committed to the Senate version, which was released April 16.
Similarly, UFW pushed the Senate version, noting the House proposal would cause job losses by transforming the farm labor force into a system of temporary workers without meaningful protections or rights.
"Besides not including a new immigration process that would allow farm workers who feed us every day to legalize their status and earn permanent legal residence over time, Goodlatte's proposed immigration reform plan would eliminate many long-standing worker protections and slash wages for foreign and domestic workers," UFW spokeswoman Maria Machuca said.
"Instead, we urge lawmakers to support the comprehensive immigration reform bill currently in the Senate, which has bipartisan support."
AWC said it would continue working with the UFW to keep the principles of the Senate's plan at the forefront. A key similarity between the two bills is the flexible cap on the number of workers allowed in the country for agricultural labor, which the USDA Secretary has the authority to raise or lower to meet current demand.
Co-sponsors of the House bill include Reps. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, George Holding, R-N.C., Ted Poe, R-Texas, Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga.
Read a summary of the Agricultural Guestworker Act, or read more about the Senate bill at the links below.